Casino Royale – Ian Fleming

CasinoBetween my recent attempt to finish FFXII fast enough to merit a felony-level speeding ticket and late night news coverage and my exploits as a CPR instructor, breathing into plastic dummies and explaining to people that, “No, these people won’t have the decency to crawl up on a table before the pass out just to accommodate the fact that you weigh six hundred pounds and your knees hurt on the ground,” I’ve gotten a bit behind on my entries. To add to that, living in 1938 Nazi Germany with a leader who is constantly both on the brink of war and looking at his own people like he’s trying to decide how much zyklon b he’ll need to get has somewhat dulled my capacity for humor. So I might as well try to distract myself from the next two and a half minutes by talking about an iconic Cold War hero responsible for fighting communism, killing foreigners, and causing enough collateral damage to be blacklisted by every insurance agency on the planet.

I imagine quite a few of you will disagree with what I intend to say about Casino Royale based on a fundamental quality of popular culture. Since superhero movies* have been popping up like genital warts—hideous, self-replicating spectacles that only exist because most of the population lacks the capacity to make intelligent decisions—I can only assume that most people like them. Superheroes, that is. Not genital warts. However, while these people might possess the vicarious narcissism to view lack of meaningful conflict or character development as a virtue or the cognitive dissonance to treat someone who tempts every psychopathic cosplayer into battle with no regard for collateral damage as a “good guy,” I find that as a use of my time, it ranks somewhere between standing in line at the grocery store and ignore my cat when he smacks me in the head at 4:00 am to tell me he’s hungry.

*And, I can’t believe I have to include this, the Spider-man Broadway musical.

Enter James Bond. Not the James Bond whose liver burns alcohol like a sterno can, who can cause more damage to a BMW than I could afford to pay for in my life and still convince his boss to give him an Aston Martin a year later, and for whom the genital warts analogy is a strikingly apt comparison, but a James Bond who never got over his childhood fear of falling asleep and traded in his teddy bear for a loaded Beretta. This broken, high-strung Bond draws from Ian Fleming’s real-life experience as a naval intelligence officer, where he developed a network of spies in Spain, planted false documents to lure Nazi U-boats into mine fields, and based on the plot of his novel, I assume, used the English treasury to feed a nasty gambling addiction. While I appreciate the realistic, vulnerable Bond, I have to wonder about the veracity of the novel’s content when he served primarily an administrative role during the war and his biographer literally says he had, “no obvious qualifications” for the job.

The novel’s plot begins with a scheme to bankrupt the villain, Le Chiffre, the treasurer for the Russian organization, Smersh an organization so paranoid and xenophobic that it makes American politics look like someone told a racist joke and gave away the punchline halfway through. Le Chiffre fills Smersh’s coffers by gambling, making him only slightly less dangerous than Wall Street. Bond is sent to the Casino as the best card player in the English Secret Service, an organization that apparently feels the best way to protect the country is to pick the employees who they owe money to and send them out on dangerous missions. While I’ll refrain from the finer details of the plot, suffice to say that the Secret Service botches the mission—as we might expect from people who keep tabs on spies with great talent in games of chance—and Bond ends up at the mercy of Le Chiffre.

Normally I wouldn’t give away quite so much about the story, but this is a special case—at the villain’s defeat, the reader is only two-thirds of the way through the book. Now, I’ve remained proverbially hungry after a few meals, but if I followed Fleming’s guidelines on when to stop, I’d finish off a plate of shrimp, the plate itself, a tray of silverware, the hostess and the front door of the restaurant before I went home. Casino Royale is the perfect book for the spy-thriller fan who loves to sit in the movie theatre for an hour after the credits. I can’t even express my confusion over how the creator of the most sexually active character in history can’t figure out that if you keep going for too long after the climax, it’ll just rub us down until we’re irritated and bored. So while the more realistic, vulnerable Bond makes the outcome a little less certain than your average Man vs Turkey Sandwich conflict, I don’t think an audience who appreciates a politically high-stakes game of baccarat will necessarily stay tuned in for the story of a man’s challenging road to physical recovery.

If I had to salvage some cohesive glue keeping the pages of the book from dropping out like narcoleptic readers, I’d say Fleming intended the book to be less about international espionage and more about the pseudo-romance between Vesper Lynd and James Bond. This does come off as almost a parody of a Disney princess, developing a life-long and fulfilling love based on as much personal information as can be obtained by exchanging business cards. Naturally, the relationship ends abruptly—and I say that confidently as the only people who think that’s a spoiler are currently waiting for the coyote to catch the road runner, or they’re positive that the professor’s plan is sure to get Gilligan and company off the island this time. Read for the character development or even the romance, I kind of like it. The sheer and abject depression that Bond sinks into at the realization that his job holds him in the lifetime stranglehold of a gang, poisoning all other aspects of his life with danger and paranoia, really goes a long way to explain why James Bond is the way he is. Because otherwise, I’m afraid I just wouldn’t understand why any man would want to travel to the most interesting places on earth and have anonymous, consequence-free sex with countless beautiful women and experience rejection less often than a customer in a McDonald’s drive-through. Completely baffling.

Advertisements

Nightfire – PS2, XBox, Game Cube

dominique
I’m currently having a bit of a Jonny Quest crisis when it comes to James Bond. In eighth grade, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest was the standard by which I set my life up for disappointment. My yard wasn’t big enough, my life wasn’t adventurous enough, my friends weren’t close enough, and instead of making daily trips to Gibson-esque cyber worlds, the most technical, scientific thing I could do was set people’s VCR clocks for them. However, about ten years back, untreated depression, a vicious break-up, career uncertainty, and the entire Bush administration had given me new standards for disappointment, so when I dug up some old episodes of Jonny Quest, I could finally watch them objectively. Even if I ignore the fact that I’ve seen McDonald’s wrappers with more entertaining writing and character development less natural than breast implants, the first time they busted out a “Sim-sim-sala-bim,” I began to edge cautiously away from the series like it was a family member who always refers to Asians as “those little yellow people.”

japan

Visit exotic locales. Meet the local population. Then shoot them.

Likewise, James Bond always held a certain allure for me throughout high school and early college, allowing me to vicariously experience the frustration of not living a life of exotic travel classy parties, and the luxury of not being rejected by girls who would prefer I sequester myself in a hole somewhere because I wasn’t exotic or classy enough for them. Fortunately, Goldeneye gave me something to do while cloistered like a frustrated adolescent monk, thus fueling my frustrated fantasies—kind of like putting out a kitchen fire with a bottle of bacon grease simply because you like the way it smells afterward. I wrote about that last week, though, about how the Wii remake was a disappointing, linear, first-person-shooter without any elements of the spy-thriller genre. It was only after playing Nightfire and watching Tomorrow Never Dies that I came to the realization, “Oh yeah. They’re all kind of bad.”

But if judged by 007 standards, Nighfire blew me away on its release. It had a story as original and strong as any of the films (even if the films are formulaic and convoluted), it’s own opening sequence (even if the song sounded like a monkey trying to crush a termite running across a piano) and an overall look and feel that completely outdid the previous game, Agent Under Fire (even if that game was only a mediocre effort at best). The story has Bond investigating the theft of a missile guidance chip as it is turned over in secret to Raphael Drake, a man who heads the Phoenix Corporation that specializes in decommission of nuclear weapons. Sounds to me like they’re throwing Bond softball missions in his old age. A man with dead nuclear weapons who runs a company named after a bird that comes back from the dead in a fiery blaze wants control of nuclear weapons? I’ve seen episodes of Blue’s Clues that were harder to crack. Mix in your standard cocktail of Bond villain motivations (Part Hugo Drax from both the Moonraker film and Novel with a spritz of Blofeld’s New World Order) and you have a pretty good story that almost certainly doesn’t sound completely ripped off from the main series.

nightvision

The game gives you constant access to night and heat vision, which you will probably only remember when you search for screen shots for your blog post.

If you read my Goldeneye Reloaded review from last week, I lamented the fact that modern Bond games are practically indistinguishable from your average Call of Duty. Nightfire, fortunately, had not yet fallen into that trap, and thus has objectives a little more complex than “Go that way. Don’t get shot.” Stages have some areas that, if you squint just right, might be forcing you into it’s own predetermined Macarena of fantasy espionage, but mostly, they’re free-roaming and engineered like real world locations: buildings naturally have hallways with doors and rooms off of them, outdoor locations are reasonably open and non-constricting, and roads, like always, are long corridors with very few forks which all link back up to the main road and have boxes of missiles and body armor lying around on the pavement. This gives the game an aspect of exploration absent from the hallway-of-bullets style games. The player can find extra body armor, ammunition caches, or even weapons stronger than the ones Bond loots off corpses. This creates one of my favorite scenarios for video games—options for the player. Each weapon has an alternate method of fire for when you want to be accurate with your shot or just hit everything in front of you, when you want to be silent and stealthy or if you don’t care who knows where you are, or when you think an enemy is best brought down with a hail of bullets or a grenade launched into their face. Also unlike modern games, you can carry as many weapons as you find. Yes, it might take Medieval torture equipment to stretch my imagination far enough to picture Bond lugging around enough firepower to be legally classified as either a small-scale civil war or an NRA gun show, but this is one case where verisimilitude takes a back seat to being fun to play, and I’d rather have a steady choice of weapons than leave a trail of deadly breadcrumbs behind me for my enemies to follow every time I stumble across a new gun.

driving

Wait, this isn’t a screenshot from Nightfire…this is a photograph from my driving test.

The other benefit to the exploration is that the player can potentially change how the level plays. An early stage tasked me with skirting a castle’s security system. Halfway through I stumbled across a panel that controlled the spot lights. There’s something about zapping a single wire with a watch laser and then waltzing right in through the front gates that makes me feel like…well, like James Bond, to be honest. The player can discover moves like this several times throughout each level, and each one jacks up their score (towards unlocking multiplayer features). The game calls these “Bond Moves,” described in the manual as “Moves that only Bond would think of.” Disregarding the fact that any action taken by the player is, by definition, no longer a Bond move, some of these are a little disappointing. Sure, it takes some skill to launch a car through a diner to evade enemies, but I’m pretty sure that’s in the standard Blues Brothers playbook as well. And maybe it takes the keen eyesight of a super-spy to spot a weak support beam that would bring down a bridge on top of a troop of soldiers, but it takes less wit to realize that an explosive barrel makes a better target than the enemy huddling for cover behind it. And if it doesn’t, well, I’m assuming the NSA is monitoring this post, so please consider this my application.

alura-mccall

The game forges emotional connections with the characters by killing you constantly so you have to stare at Alura McCall for a combined total of three hours.

And, of course, what Bond game would be complete without his legendary charm, beautiful women, and we can only assume the unholy stench every time he unzips his pants that derives from the conglomeration of sex diseases he’s accumulated over the years? Nightfire views women less like Bond’s companions and more like dialysis machines, which he can’t be separated from for more than an hour at a time. In addition to having three named women and at least two random girls lining up to perpetuate his addiction to carnal spelunking, one later stage murders a love interest at the top of Drake’s Tokyo tower and gives him a fresh girl by the time he makes it to the ground, as though he got them in a buy-two-get-one free sale and just had the third one laying around unopened in his glove box. I know Bond has become so flat and formulaic he looks like a Loony Toons algebra book, but we are still talking about the character who went on an angry, vengeful killing spree when his wife was murdered, so it might have been nice to give him more time to grieve than it takes to acquire PTSD.

While I realize my reviews have gotten progressively cloudier and can only really be called reviews in the sense that I’m looking at stuff again, I’d like to state clearly that I liked this game. It has the classic Bond feel. The gadgets are actual spyware (not the stuff that the Internet installs on your computer)–the day you can download a grapple beam from Google Play is the day the spy thriller genre dies. The difficulty curve works well, although it’s a little depressing to watch your scores progressively drop off until the game stops giving you gold medals and unlocked items and handing out participation awards instead. At the end of the game, especially, you notice that checkpoints are rarer than nuns in a brothel, but with unskippable cut scenes, I can probably recite Drake’s final monologue the next time I audition for a play.

Goldeneye – Wii

goldeneye

Totally based on the movie. Not based off the N64 game in the least.

As of writing this, it’s December 16th, and I’m still reeling from a year full of people pointing out every old rich person who dies, teaching for free so I can learn to utilize all the newest research in an environment run by die-hard traditionalists, and wrapping my head around the fact that I live in a country full of people who believe that the complete annihilation of all life on earth is a preferable alternative to electing a president who routinely cleans out her Yahoo spam folder. Needless to say, my recreation time as of late looks less like a shelf full of video games and more like a bowl full of Xanax. However, I did manage to make it through a game or two during this time (even if Anne may have hijacked my 3ds), and in honor of increased global tensions and madmen secretly working with Russia to unleash mass destruction on the world, here’s the remake of Goldeneye.

The original Goldeneye for the N64 was, of course, the stuff dreams are made of–the angry, violent dreams of a ninth grader with social issues. Probably the best game on the system other than Ocarina of Time, it was more popular than porn for a year or two, partly due to a multiplayer system that revolutionized ways to passive-aggressively beat the Living Daylights out of your friends. The game was perfect…so remaking it makes about as much sense as a Lord of the Rings reboot with Gilbert Gottfried playing Frodo, Gallagher as Gandalf, and Larry the Cable Guy as Aragorn. No one ever uses their remake powers for good. Why not remake Resonance of Fate? Or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Or Michigan: Report from Hell…actually, that one’s a game that shouldn’t be remade without a vat of sulphuric acid at the end of the assembly line. But still, let’s remake the lousy games and leave the good ones alone, shall we?

To match the recent films, Goldeneye has been updated to fit the grittier, earthier, Daniel Craigier Bond. There’s something forehead-slappingly ironic about rebooting an outdated formula firmly entrenched in the Cold War by digging a ditch through the Bush era. The new storyline focuses on terrorism, which has become less of a theme with Bond and more of an indication of tourette’s syndrome. Other than a few shout-outs, the basic plot remains the same; the Janus organization wants to steal all the money in England and disguise it as an act of terror. That level of effort may be as smart as trying to get out of a parking ticket by setting the White House lawn on fire, but hey, it worked in Die Hard. Except, of course, for the fact that Hans Gruber set an Olympic Diving record as the first German to do a 100-meter high dive into a hunk of concrete, but seriously, what are the chances that Trevelyan will go the same way?

natalya

At least the girl is still hot…and you only have to babysit her once.

But aside from the fact that they got rid of Hagrid, Ned Stark, and the douchy boyfriend from Mrs. Doubtfire, how does the game play? Not bad…if you have a plentiful supply of Dramamine and don’t mind Bond glancing expectantly at the heavens for divine intervention every time a small football team’s worth of enemies are trying to aerate your digestive system. Although this game was released on the NDS, PS3 and Xbox 360, I feel like the Wii controls, which handles about as well as a marching band mounted on Roombas, make this version unique—like shopping in the “discount: irregular” bin at Walmart. Personally, though, I don’t think James Bond is the type of spy who’d go on a mission dressed in pants with one leg that stops at the knee and a shirt with a third sleeve and a hole for an extra head.

sean-bean

James Bond isn’t really an action hero (unlike all those guys who do rush into battle with six-fingered gloves and boots with toes at each end)–his movies are spy thrillers. Just like how action is the genre of choice for people who would rather exchange bullets than lines of dialogue, people who watch spy thrillers and play their games tend to want something with a bit more intrigue. The original Goldeneye had that. There were fast-paced battles, but there were also slower, tenser moments, stealthy sections, and mission objectives that required a little more thought than playing “follow the bullets” and “corpse hopscotch.” The new Goldeneye, coming from the same era as Final Fantasy XIII, took all of those classic gameplay features and chucked them out the window…or, rather, down the hallway. While ostensibly, the game gives Bond objectives, most of them amount to getting the player to a certain point in the level, which triggers a cut scene or asks the player to hit the action button, but oftentimes you get credit just for being there, as though the game feels the need to pass out participation ribbons to the special breed of player that now dominates the scene who can’t handle much more than your average Madden or FIFA game.

In addition to being a game where running the gauntlet is less free-roaming than playing Gauntlet, it also gives Bond constantly regenerating health. It may be a little hard to believe that even a super-spy can recover from a shotgun blast to the lungs by crouching behind a cardboard box to catch his breath, but since most good video games and Bond films stretch my imagination enough to be considered a Medieval execution method, I’m okay with that. They even manage to counterbalance Bond having the regenerative powers of a Gecko hyped up on Red Bull and cocaine with enough of a challenge that the game doesn’t feel too easy or too hard. However, they mostly accomplish this by throwing a sizable chunk of the Russian army at you in every level, which again takes away from the suspense and mystique of a spy thriller and turns it into ten hours of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. There is a classic mode where you pick up body armor and don’t regenerate health, but you still have to face down the entire population of Eastern Europe, so the only thing it balances out is the explanation why each enemy still jumps out at Bond after witnessing him murder all their colleagues.

From Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone to Frasncisco Scaramanga’s golden gun, spy gadgets top off the genre like a cherry on the top of a sundae of political intrigue, murdered diplomats and at least two or three assumed STDs. A lot of a story’s success can be inferred by the covert weapons in unlikely places—who can talk about Goldfinger without mentioning Bond’s car or Oddjob’s hat? So it says a lot about the reloaded Goldeneye equips the player with…a smart phone? My, my, how chic and trendy. Is there really an app for everything? Garroting an assassin in a Finish sauna? Placing explosive charges on the insane billionaire’s secret underground bunker? Is there an app for knifing a bloodthirsty shark when your hands are tied behind your back? Do we now have to picture Bond playing Angry Birds between scenes? Or flipping through an overactive Tinder profile while sitting on the toilet? That may sum up the big problem with this game. It’s not that it deviates from the original, removes Robby Coltraine, Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan, or has Wii controls that alternate between feeling like you’re trying to sketch on a pad three meters away with an extremely long pencil and trying to brush away a spider you just found crawling up your neck tie. It’s that it takes the extraordinary life of a spy and turns it into something commonplace.

multiplayer

There’s a multiplayer, too. I didn’t bother.

007 Everything or Nothing – PS2, Game Cube, XBox

Jaws had some awkward first dates, much like I, myself, did.

Jaws had some awkward first dates, much like I, myself, did.

99? You don't look a day over 86!

99? You don’t look a day over 86!

While growing up, I never really cared much for super heroes. Something about the black-and-white morality of Superman made me think hero worship would send me down the path of joining the boy scouts or becoming an altar boy, and I had this policy of actively avoiding people who wanted to molest me. So barring a slight interest in Batman (fueled by more than a passing interest in my own mental stability), I had to look elsewhere for impressive super-humans. As much as I’d like to say my interest in spies came from picking up Goldeneye 007 for the N64, but honestly, ever since 4th grade I’ve held Get Smart as the pinnacle of television programming. To this day, 99% of the women I’ve fallen for have held more than a passing resemblance to Barbara Feldon. But since this blog focuses on video games….Goldeneye 007, N64, yada yada, cute story about my past, segue into James Bond games.

I love James Bond, from his Batman-like gadgets to his Laffy-Taffy-style wit, his flashy theme songs and cadre of beautiful women. I even bought the July 1973 issue of Playboy on eBay, hoping to see a different side of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Bond Girl (Come on, Barbara, you still have time to make an appearance!) So the fact that they only make new movies once every two or three (sometimes up to six) years, really gets under my skin. Damn it! I need regular doses of Cold War inspired action thrillers! Fortunately, I managed to find a copy of Nightfire….somewhere; I forget where…and I realized that original electronic Bond stories didn’t all have to end up as disappointing as Agent Under Fire. So let me tell you about Everything or Nothing instead.

Curse you, Spider-man!

Curse you, Spider-man!

Everything or Nothing marks Pierce Brosnan’s final and from what I can tell only video game appearance as James Bond. The story follows our super-spy tracking down a load of nano-macguffins from the Green Goblin. If Willem Defoe–whose name literally means “of the enemy”–didn’t particularly look like his entire raison d’etre amounted to playing a Bond villain, they named his character after Satan and gave him a chip on his shoulder because Bond killed Christopher Walken–the only human on earth voted “Most Likely to Play a Bond Villain” by his high school graduating class”–in A View to a Kill. Some girls show up. Bond travels the world. Richard Kiel reprises his role as Jaws, lending his voice to the infamously mute character. Things explode. Bond makes puns that would make Gallagher turn in his grave.

This mission employs Bond's talent for plummeting.

This mission employs Bond’s talent for plummeting.

The back of the box tries to sell the game on the merits of having “an unprecedented variety of missions,” which raises some interesting questions. For one, what precedents on mission variety have we already established? Will Everything or Nothing contain action shooter levels, a quick round of Tetris in Moscow, three levels of Bubble Bobble, followed by ten minutes of Goat Simulator? Unfortunately for those of us who always felt James Bond needed a goat sidekick, the purported variety means that in addition to the regular third-person shooter levels, you get to play levels where you drive along a road, drive around a map, drive around a track, drive a tank around a map, and drive along a road in your choice of vehicles.  Of course, since I had just finished playing–sorry, attempting to play–Grand Theft Auto III, I couldn’t help but notice some strong similarities, especially on one map where the game literally asked me to steal a car and use it to break into a factory. Naturally, the GTA driving controls in place, this mission–along with several timed segments–turned into a game of Ted Kennedy bumper cars, with Bond’s Aston Martin flopping around the road as though someone had entered a live tuna in the Indy 500.

Take that, old bean! Yes, very good. Indeed.

Take that, old bean! Yes, very good. Indeed.

The character combat…works? I guess. I did rather appreciate the full body view of the character, rather than floating through the game as a disembodied gun with severely impaired peripheral vision. The camera controls work with all the finesse and grace of Ted Kennedy’s Bumper Cars, and I didn’t find any option for auto tracking or even a Z-targeting method like in Zelda. Since no one seems to have told the aiming feature they scrapped the first-person perspective, it will only lock on to enemies if Bond faces the same direction of the camera and the enemy falls within a zone of sight that doesn’t include his immediate peripheral vision; after all, nothing says “international super spy” like unloading six rounds into a house plant because it looks more threatening than the man holding a glass bottle, eying up your head like a recycling bin. Granted, taking control of Bond gives players the chance to immerse themselves in the world of espionage, but can’t we give the character just a little credit for intuition? I mean, Bond may excel at hand-to-hand combat, but when someone shoves the barrel of an AK-47 in your face, you just might have a few more effective tricks up your sleeve than pistol whipping him with your very much loaded shotgun.

How many games did it take you to figure out how to not stand out in the open, trying to stop bullets with your lungs?

How many games did it take you to figure out how to not stand out in the open, trying to stop bullets with your lungs?

Rather than a traditional menu, Everything or Nothing gives you “Bond Senses,” which I guess attempts to make up for the otherwise oblivious senses he displays in combat. By pressing left on the d-pad (Gamecube version), time will slow down, you can cycle through your weapons, and anything in the environment you can interact with will radiate small red rings that you can target to tell you exactly how to interact with them. I found this a refreshing alternative to the standard flipping-through-google-for-a-walkthrough method, and rarely got stuck. I say rarely because I did spend the better part of a half an hour running through an abandoned hotel looking for a fuse box, only to find out later that I had to target a non-accessible area of the map to find it. Also notice I said “slow time down” rather than “stop time.” Note: bullets travel fast. Best to stay on your guard even in Bond Sense Mode if you don’t have a pressing need to aerate your spleen. I found that one out the hard way.

EA retained the idea of Bond moves from previous games. Any time you do something especially clever, witty, or otherwise on the lines of what James Bond would have done himself, the game awards you bonus points. These can include useful tricks like jumping a fence on your motorcycle, or shooting a ceiling connection to drop a catwalk onto a group of enemies. However, I think EA may have run out of creative mojo (crikey!) to think up new Bond moves, as occasionally they awarded me points for things like “hitting the badguy with your rocket launcher” or “touch the girl.” And while, yes, this might fall under the umbrella of “in-character,” it generally doesn’t take super intelligence to go massage the girl when she asks you to.

Look....I, uh, hope I wasn't out of line with the crack about the big ape.

Look….I, uh, hope I wasn’t out of line with the crack about the big ape.

Generally, I liked the game. The lame accent Willem Defoe adopted made me think he didn’t exactly put his heart into this performance, and while I thought the game challenged me just enough to keep me interested without chucking my controller across the room, the final stage spiked horribly, so that I probably spent a good 10% of my total play time dying over and over again until giving up and dropping the game to easy mode–at which point it still took me three attempts. Everything or Nothing feels a little light in the story department, and even the girls only seem to make appearance out of perfunctory need to follow a formula, but as a game it held together without seeming like the usual movie-licensed cash grab that these games often degrade into. Plus, the game also features Judi Dench and John Cleese (or as I call him, Funny Q), and who doesn’t love to take mission suggestions from Monty Python?